George Washington Carver: More Than Just The Peanut Man

WORLD HISTORY | March 1, 2019

George Washington Carver Conducts Experiments. (Original Caption) 1/25/1921. Source: (gettyimages.com)

His Early Life

The best guess of Carver’s birthday is January of 1864. No one knows his exact birthday as he was born a slave on the farm of Moses Carver in Missouri. His father is also unknown. George’s mother was named Mary. He had several sisters and one brother named James. When George was an infant, Confederate soldiers raided the farm and took George along with his mother and one of his sisters. They were sold in Kentucky. Moses Carver sent one of his people to look for them and only George was found. He returned to the Carver farm where Carver and his wife raised George and his brother James educating them at home. James preferred working in the fields however, George was a bit sickly as a child and could not work in the fields for very long. Susan, his foster mother, taught him gardening and how to make herbal medicines. George became fascinated with plants and was known locally as the “plant doctor.”

Neosho Colored School, where George Washington Carver had his education start. Source: (ozarksalive.com)

His Education

George Washington Carver was a brilliant child. His foster mother, Susan insisted to her husband that he find a school that would allow George to attend. George ended up going to the ‘School For African American Children’ in Neosho, Kansas. He had to walk ten miles to school five days a week! In his early teens, George left the farm and moved closer to his school. He had to pay tuition so to earn money he worked in the kitchen of a hotel. He had a talent for creating new recipes and entered baking contests often. He graduated from high school in 1880 and decided to go to college. George applied and was accepted to Highland Presbyterian College and the school granted him a full scholarship based on his impressive essay and grades. When he showed up he was turned away as they did not know he was black. This did not deter George from his college dream. He spent the next few years working and saving money. In 1888, he was accepted at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He was the first black student in the history of the college. He took many art and music classes, intending on becoming a teacher. When speaking of his experience at Simpson College he said, “The kind of people at Simpson College made me believe I was a human being.” His art instructor, Etta Budd, encouraged him to apply to Iowa State Agricultural School to study botany after seeing his very detailed paintings of plants and flowers.

The George Washington Carver statue on the Iowa State University campus. Source: (thegazette.com)

Carver Makes A Name For Himself

George Washington Carver was the first African American to earn his Bachelor of Science degree at Simpson College. He remained on as a faculty member and ended up earning his master’s degree. He was the director of the Iowa State Experimental Station. He discovered a couple of types of fungi and performed experiments in crop rotation. He became a leading agricultural scientist.

George Washington Carver quote. Source: (azquotes.com)

Carver and The Tuskegee Institute

George Washington Carver received an offer from Tuskegee Institute, one of the first African American colleges in America, to come set up a lab and teach. Tuskegee was not able to offer him much in the way of salary or lab equipment. Carver accepted the offer, not for the money but because he could offer an education to those seeking it. It was while working in the Tuskegee experiment fields that Carver began using peanuts to prove his crop rotation theory. It was an easy crop to grow and he was able to help the poor southern farmers with what he learned.

The Jessup Wagon, The Tuskegee Movable School: A Unique Contribution to National and International Agriculture and Rural Development. Source: (jstor.org)

Carver created the Jessup Wagon which was a portable classroom. He wanted to bring his experiments out to the sharecroppers to show them the benefits of crop rotation. The farmers were thrilled with the large yields from the cotton crops after using Carver’s methods. Now, what to do with all those peanuts?

George Washington Carver: The Peanut Man. Source: (history.com)

The Peanut Man

Carver developed several products to use up the peanut surplus that was created when farmers began employing his crop rotation method using peanuts as the alternate crop. He created more than 300 peanut products! Some of these include paste, soap, lotion, laxatives, and even paper. The peanut market became big and the farmers were able to make money off what used to be a ‘throw away’ crop. So, what about peanut butter? He did invent a version of peanut butter but peanut butter had been around for hundreds of years. Carver went on to achieve many things including working with Henry Ford and for the United States Congress. He will always be known as the peanut man since due to his efforts, peanuts are a multi-million-dollar crop and he is credited with saving the southern agricultural economy. Though Carver passed away in 1943, his legacy lives on.

Tags: George Washington Carver, 1800s, leading agricultural scientist, peanuts, crops, African American hi

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.